Different ways to approach research questions. We’re going to have a look at some slightly different ways to approach research questions, which may come in handy if you’re having trouble finding people. These are the FAN, or friends, associates, and neighbours technique, using mind maps and DNA testing. So the FAN technique which is also known as the cluster technique, was developed and popularised by the American genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills. And it has certain similarities to family or community reconstruction techniques used by social historians. The FAN technique gets you to use and explore the links with, and between, the people with whom your ancestors worked, worshipped, were educated with, lived next to, and so on.
So if you’re having difficulty in discovering where a person was born, then finding the birthplaces for their siblings, for example, may narrow down the possibilities. And for those of us coming from emigrant backgrounds, it’s quite often the case that communities migrated together. And thus, you may find the same families intermingling with one another for many years. And aside from its use to help identify ancestors, it’s also a really good way to learn more about the world in which your ancestors lived, what type of people they lived near, what type of employment was in the area, and so on.
Neighbours and associates– and these associates may have been people belonging to the same church, place of employment, military unit, and so on, may have witnessed legal documents, be godparents, attended the same school, or become involved in a lawsuit with your ancestor, or have been mentioned in a Will. All of this can help you find and identify your ancestors. Particularly if you’re trying to work out which of several possible matches is the right person to add to your tree. It’s amazing how many times there will be references to one or more potential matches in the same area, with the same husband or wife’s name, or other similarities.
The problem then becomes figuring out which of the possible matches is the right one for you. Using the FAN technique can help, as individuals will have unique clusters of friends, coworkers, and neighbours, and so on. And by comparing information already known about the individual with that of the groups which surround the other possible matches, you can help yourself decide which is the right person.
As an example, I’d like to find out more about my great-great-grandfather Henry Bolander, and his wife Anna. Various biographies tell me that he emigrated to Ohio from Germany in 1846, at the tender age of 15, to join his uncle in Columbus, Ohio. However, I’ve not been able to find him on the 1850 census. And I don’t know his uncle’s name. And though I know his wife’s first name was Anna, I haven’t been able to find her maiden name, nor anything about her family. However, I do know that Henry attended the Lutheran seminary in Columbus. And that, in 1851, he was said to be teaching in German and English schools.
And that his neighbour Leo Lesquereux introduced him to the study of botany, which he then followed quite successfully, in later life. So if I track down some of these clues, I might find reference to Henry’s uncle, an area in Columbus where he might be living by seeing where Leo lived, or I might find a likely candidate for his wife living next door. So, things that I need to track down– Where’s the seminary located? Is there a list of pupils for the time period in which Henry might have been attending? What German and English schools existed in Columbus, Ohio, in 1851? Assuming he stayed there.
And I need to find Leo Lesquereux on the 1850 census and look to see if Henry’s in the area, or another Bolander who might match his uncle. Another thing you can do is consider using a mind map for visualisation. And Wikipedia’s definition of a mind map is that it’s a diagram used to visually organise information. A mind map is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the centre of a blank landscape page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words, and part of words are added. And indeed, it’s a tool that can help you structure data. And consider and generate new ideas in a visual format, which is very useful for many of us.
And they can be very powerful tools for genealogists. They’ve been traditionally used as tools for brainstorming new ideas or organising research plans. However, you can really also use them to consider genealogical data, as the next example will show us.
This is an example of how information on an individual can be represented through the use of a mind map. So this person Isaac, or Joseph as he usually called himself, Spier was born in England, and throughout his life he used various names and gave different places of birth. He served time in Sing Sing prison for bigamy, among other crimes. The genealogist and author, Ron Arons, who’s the great-grandson of Spier, used a mind map to create and give sense of the varying data, as it allowed him to see the information and how it changed over time in one place. This helped to make associations and see similarities.
And this mind map shows, in clockwise order by date, Isaac, or Joseph, showing up in various documents, with the right-hand side being the furthest back information, and the top left being the most recent information. So you can see more information on using mind maps in genealogy on Mr. Arons’ website.
The other thing you might try is DNA testing. We’ll cover DNA testing, or genetic genealogy, in much greater depth elsewhere on the course. But it can help in cases where relationships are unclear, in cases of adoption or where documentary evidence might be partially missing. DNA testing is done on living people, and in most cases it involves a cheek swab using a tool much like a toothbrush. Results are compared with other people who’ve tested, and it can help you prove lineage from a certain family or membership of a surname group. And a variety of tests are available. Y-DNA, which is done on males only. MtDNA, which follows the female line.
And Autosomal– and this is non-sex based, and looks at the maternal and paternal ancestors back to about five or six generations. DNA testing is best done– used in conjunction with traditional document-based research. But it’s a useful tool for the genealogists. But we do suggest that results shouldn’t be relied on without other forms of evidence. I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring these different ways to approach genealogical research. There’s a lot of information on these techniques available on the internet. So do explore the suggested sites for further information.